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Will Smith on building a legacy

Will Smith on "King Richard," building a legacy
Will Smith on "King Richard," building a legacy 09:32

"Just so you know, I'm not a tennis player."

No, but Will Smith is a pretty good instructor, serving up tips ("A little more flex in your knees!") and quips ("It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye!") to CBS News' Gayle King on the tennis court.

Smith picked up a racket for his latest film, "King Richard." In the Oscar-nominated performance, he plays the father of Venus and Serena Williams, determined to turn his daughters into champions on, and off, the court.

Kinga sked, "For many people, it didn't seem that Richard Williams knew what he was doing."

"He wasn't doing what people thought he was doing!" Smith laughed. "He didn't give a damn about tennis. He was trying to build his family, right? He was using tennis to cultivate his family, to cultivate values."

View a clip of Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis in "King Richard":

King Richard | Cops in the House | Warner Bros. Entertainment by Warner Bros. Entertainment on YouTube

At 53, Smith knows a lot about value. He is a global superstar, selling millions of albums, billions in tickets at the box office, conquering the big screen and small screen, and is now a best-selling author. Make no mistake, his memoir, "Will," isn't sugar-coated.

"My suffering helped me to become who I am," he said.

The book is a candid confessional of a boy from West Philadelphia.

King asked, "You said, 'I was a weird kid with big ears.' What do you think made you a weird kid?"

"I kind of lived in my imagination," he replied. "I couldn't help but see things and why they were funny."

Will Smith, an Academy Award-nominee for "King Richard." CBS News

But there was nothing funny about his life at home. Smith had a very complicated relationship with his father, a veteran who ruled over the family with discipline, fear and fists. At nine, Smith saw his father beat his mother. "And I didn't do anything," he said.

"But as a little boy, Will, what are you supposed to do?"

"You know, the child mind doesn't work like that. I expected to be a superhero."

At one point when his parents separated, Smith said he thought about taking his own life.

"And it was the only time in my life that I considered suicide, and it just was, 'It was my fault.' I don't know how kids do that in their mind, but, you know, it was somehow my fault that my family was falling apart."

As a child Smith coped by being the class clown. His nickname started with a teacher:

"Miss Brown, she was calling me Prince Charming," he laughed. "Prince Charming. So, I was the prince. And then I added the fresh."

"And it stayed? It stuck with you?" asked King.

"It stuck hard."

So did his love of hip-hop. He recalled the first rap he did at age 12:

At the age of one
I had just begun
on my journey to the T-O-P.
And at the age of two
everybody knew
I was a hellified, huh, MC.

"I actually wrote the 'huh'!" he laughed.

He would reach the t-o-p, and then some, first in rap, then as "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."

New to acting, Smith would memorize the lines of the entire cast, something he now laughs about today.

"But do you look at that and go, 'Ooh, rookie mistake'?" asked King.

"I was like, 'That dude's an awful actor. He's not going to amount to anything in this business!" he laughed.

CBS News' Gayle King and Will Smith outside the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" house.  CBS News

But, he did. Smith could've stopped with a hit TV show. But that wasn't part of the plan.

"You were asked, 'What do you want out of this career?' And you said you want to be …?"

"The biggest movie star in the world," he replied.

Smith's dream came true with a string of blockbusters. "I'm just saying, Gayle, you know, I mean, people make movies in a row, but if you're gonna make three in a row … I mean, what we talking about? What are we talking about? 'Bad Boys'? 'Independence Day'? 'Men in Black'?"

King asked, "Did you ever think of your race as a deterrent for you in Hollywood, considering the success you've had?"

"You know, I never looked at my race as keeping me from being able to do anything," Smith said. "And I've been a really firm believer that, first and foremost, you gotta believe, and when you believe, and if you believe in the level of your belief, [that] will determine your ability to bend the universe. If you don't believe, nobody's gonna believe."

Penguin Press

For Smith, fame takes a back seat to family. He is the father of three children – Trey, from his first wife, Sherry Zampino; and Jaden and Willow with his wife of the past 25 years, Jada Pinkett Smith. They are a power couple. Many believe they have an unconventional marriage.

King asked, "How do you handle all the chatter about your marriage?"

"I have decided that chatter about my life can be of a benefit to people," he said. "I think that chatter is the first stage to having a real conversation, and being able to truly explore if some of the things in your heart are loving, or poisonous."

"You both have talked very candidly -- it's a very famous story – infidelity in the marriage and how you navigated that that time …"

"Yeah, never. There's never been infidelity in our marriage."

"Never been infidelity in the marriage?"

"Never," he said. "Jada and I talk about everything. And we have never surprised one another with anything, ever."

What may be surprising is how Smith came to terms with the pain from his past. He made peace with his father when he was dying in 2016.

"In those last moments with my father, when I was able to forgive my father, I had a shocking realization that I was able to forgive myself,' said Smith. "My father dying started a new phase of my life."

And that new phase continues with a mission to make a difference and build a legacy that is lasting and meaningful.

King asked, "So, as we sit here today, there are many people looking saying, 'Will Smith is at the top of his game. Will Smith seems to have it all.' What do you have left to do that you want to do?"

"Life has gotten really, really simple for me right now, right?" he said. "I think I'm a better actor than I've ever been. And I think I'm going to, you know, these next ten years of my career, I think, will be the top of my acting performances.

"But I also feel like I can help people. There's a teacher inside of me that's trying to get out. I've learned how to be happy here. And I've learned how to create love here. And I want to share."

For more info:

  • "King Richard" now playing in theatres and available On Demand
  • "Will" by Will Smith with Mark Manson (Penguin), in Hardcover, Large Print Trade Paperback, Spanish Trade Paperback, eBook and Audio formats, available via Amazon and Indiebound
  • Follow Will Smith on Twitter and Instagram

Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Joseph Frandino. 

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